From parking to mixed-use

Plans continue for lot near Capital Crescent Trail

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2005

Neighbors remained cautiously optimistic this week about a downtown Bethesda development that will bring more parking, shopping and affordable housing to Woodmont Avenue.

Developers held the first of two informal public forums Monday at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Service Center to hear comments about their plans for Lot 31, a two-acre parking lot next to the Capital Crescent Trail at the intersection of Woodmont and Bethesda avenues across from Barnes and Noble, and lot 31-A a smaller corner lot across Woodmont.

The main purpose of the meeting was to hear comments from people who live in the Sacks neighborhood, located directly behind the proposed development. The developers plan to hold a second meeting on Nov. 14 to present updated plans based on their discussions with the community.

While the Sacks Neighborhood Association endorsed Hoffman⁄Stonebridge’s plans in May, representatives from the neighborhood at Monday night’s meeting balked at the possibility of the development’s 65 affordable condominiums could become rentals rather than owner-occupied.

Elizabeth Davidson, director of the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said the county is working with Hoffman⁄Stonebridge to find ways of reducing costs associated with integrating the affordable housing units into the luxury condominium building.

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Questions or comments about the development of Lot 31 in downtown Bethesda can be e-mailed to
The next public forum on the project will be held Nov. 14 at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Service Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda.

‘‘Often condominium fees can be very high, and it makes it difficult to provide moderately priced dwelling units,” Davidson said. ‘‘One of the options we’re considering would be to perhaps have a nonprofit own the MPDUs and have those as rental. It’s just an option, it’s not anything that’s been decided.”

Lynne Loube, who represents Leland Street in the Sacks Neighborhood Association, suggested the county simply pick up the tab.

‘‘Why doesn’t the county just pay the condo fee?” Loube said. ‘‘We don’t want renters. We just don’t want them...We want people who have a stake in the neighborhood.”

The project is still in the early planning stages and developers do not expect to break ground until 2008.

In June, the county awarded PN Hoffman and Stonebridge Associates of Bethesda the development rights to lot 31. Currently, the parking lot holds 270 metered parking spaces, but it will become a mixed-use development that includes parking, residences and shopping. Hoffman⁄Stonebridge was chosen over 12 other development companies that submitted proposals for the site, after county officials solicited developers to present ideas for ways to improve the property.

The plans also include a $3 million reconfiguration of the intersection of Woodmont and Bethesda avenues, narrowing the roads in order to slow traffic and provide a shorter distance for pedestrians to cross the street.

Retail plans include a possible bike shop to accompany plans for a ‘‘bicycle depot,” a rest area where bikers on the adjacent Capital Crescent Trail would congregate, said Doug Firstenberg, a partner of Hoffman⁄Stonebridge.

‘‘We really want to focus our retail here on things that are missing from Bethesda Row,” Firstenberg said.